My husband’s eczema causes his skin to crack and peel when the seasons change. As the weather cools and the heaters blast, his skin sheds. Then again when summer comes, the process repeats itself. Over and over, year after year, the cycle continues.
In our five years of marriage, I’ve seen my husband react to this inevitable occurrence in two different ways. Either he plans for it, stocking up on lotion and treating his skin with extra care. Or he complains about it, picking at his imperfections and wishing that God had made him some other way.
With an outsider’s perfect perspective, it’s easy to watch this unfold and wonder why he doesn’t just prepare for this twice-yearly event. How could it ever take him by surprise?
I pondered this as I lay in bed this morning, feeling guilty about my lack of motivation to get up and seize the day. The hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, and I feel wrung out and ready for a nap. I wish I weren’t this way. I wish I thrived on activity and was full of vim and vigor for the New Year. So I complained about it, picking at my imperfections and wishing that God had made me some other way.
Maybe you can relate. Is there something about yourself that you wish were different? Do you crash up against your limitations and complain bitterly about their very existence? Are there certain seasons that seem to highlight those shortcomings or specific times in the calendar that are inevitably clouded with sadness?
Perhaps it’s the anniversary of losing a loved one or the melancholy that descends around your birthday or the cyclical frustration with holiday weight gain. You find yourself caught up in a season of struggle and wonder what you did wrong to land in that place again. Then you look back over how many times you’ve fallen into that same rut and grow weary thinking about the inevitability of it all.
If so, you’re not alone. And you might take comfort in knowing that this is not a new phenomenon. Over 400 years before Jesus, this complaint was recorded:
“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go… The sun rises and the sun sets… The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes… All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full… All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
If someone posted this as their Facebook status, I’d probably just roll my eyes and think, “How dramatic!” But knowing that it’s in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:1-9) makes me examine it again. And the more that I read it, the more I admire how the author of Ecclesiastes holds nothing back. He even seems to sink more and more deeply into his frustrations. The subtitles in the first two chapters say it all:
Wisdom is Meaningless
Pleasures are Meaningless
Wisdom and Folly are Meaningless
Toil is Meaningless
I’m guessing the author didn’t deal with the cultural expectation that faithful people should have it all together and radiate with the joy of the Lord at all times. He seems under no compunction to tie a happy, godly bow around the terrible things that he sees or the low feelings he’s experiencing.
When I’m in a low season, I find a lot of comfort in Ecclesiastes. Each time I read it, I remember that it’s okay to feel like this. It’s okay to complain about life, pick at life’s imperfections, and wish that God had made this life some other way. Solomon did it, why can’t I?
But then I keep reading. When I reach Chapter 3, I am so relieved to find the subtitle: A Time for Everything. The song starts playing in my head, but I politely turn down the music. I need this ancient wisdom. I long to understand it, believe it, and live it. So I read it slowly, trying to soak it in verse by verse:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
(I take a deep breath)
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
(I take a deeper breath)
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
(My shoulders start to relax)
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
(I begin to accept these truths)
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak.
Then I get to verse 11 and am reminded that
God has made everything beautiful in its time.
This ancient wisdom releases me from the pressure to rush through the low seasons in search of the high ones. They remind me that where I am, who I am, and how I feel are quite all right. And they point me to the One who is big enough to hold all of those seasons in His hands. The Unchangeable One, whose mercies are new every day. The One who is with me and for me yesterday, today, and forever. The Eternal One who makes things beautiful and gives my life meaning.